International panel will criticise US approval process for Boeing 737 Max jets

Panel's recommendations could propel major changes in long-standing jet certification rules, according to reports

A Boeing 737 Max 9 at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington. The FAA suspended operations of the 737 Max on March 13 after the Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crash. AFP
A Boeing 737 Max 9 at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington. The FAA suspended operations of the 737 Max on March 13 after the Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crash. AFP

A panel of international aviation safety regulators is finalising a report expected to criticise the initial US approval process for Boeing's 737 Max jets and to urge a reassessment of how automated systems are certified on new aircraft.

As part of its findings, the task force will call out the US Federal Aviation Administration for what it describes as lack of clarity and transparency in the way the regulator delegated authority to Boeing to assess the safety of certain flight control features, the Wall Street Journal reported. The task force concluded that essential design changes did not receive adequate attention from the FAA.

"We welcome the scrutiny of these experts,” an FAA spokesman said in reference to the panel and a number of other outside reviews examining Max certification. The agency “will carefully review all the findings and recommendations", he said.

A Boeing spokesman said the company looked forward to the finished report and “is determined to keep improving on safety in partnership with the global aerospace industry”, andthat the plane maker continued to co-operate with regulators to return the planes to service.

Boeing's best-selling 737 Max narrow-body was grounded globally in March after the model was involved in crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that killed 346 people. A lack of alignment between global regulators to approve the jet’s return to service, marked by a growing divide between the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the FAA, may extend the grounding.

The multi-agency panel, known as the Joint Authorities Technical Review, was set up by the FAA in April. It includes air safety regulators from the UAE, Canada, China, Indonesia, EU, Brazil and US.

It is expected to release its report in the next few weeks, the newspaper said.

The panel is expected to call for greater data sharing and transparency among different governments, especially in certifying the safety of aircraft such as the Max, whose basic designs are derived from earlier models.

The draft report recommends reviewing and updating FAA guidance and day-to-day certification procedures to ensure the agency's early and significant involvement in new on-board systems, particularly in terms of response times during emergencies that stem from interactions between pilots and computers.

Earlier this week, the UAE said it would conduct its own checks on the Max rather than solely rely on the FAA, while other regulators in Europe, Canada, China and India also signalled they would require more time to approve the jet.

The rift between the FAA and its global peers highlights the erosion of the US agency’s status as the leading body certifying new jets.

Updated: September 17, 2019 03:50 PM


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